I placed the call, having gotten the number from a message left on my phone. When he answered, I recognized the voice of Craig Slocum immediately.He spoke with a New England accent having been raised in Rockland, Massachusetts.We hadn’t spoken since 1969. He explained the mystery of how he had gotten my number, saying that he had checked the brigade web site where I had posted my contact information some months earlier.
As he spoke I thought of a night action we had conducted in June of 1968. I hadn’t been in country long enough to wear off the green of being new, but I had been shot at.We had lost our Battalion Commander, two days earlier, to a midair collision with an Air Force FAC plane. We had recovered all of the bodies from the Commander’s helicopter but for some reason the FAC plane had crashed some distance away and the pilot’s body had not been recovered.
Everyone knew that the VC would be sitting on the wreckage and for some convenient reason another squad that was supposed to have point couldn’t remember where the wreckage was, even though we all knew exactly where it lay. Slocum had just told me to move out and with me in the lead and Slocum walking behind me we had taken the point.
Going out was no problem. I knew where the wreckage was, having walked past it when we made our withdrawal.Now, all I had to do was descend Hill 108 and traverse the rice paddies to a river which fronted a village near the wreckage.The bridge spanning the river had been destroyed but the abutments still stood on each side.Five of us were sent across the river using a make shift system of planks.One of our machineguns was positioned on the near side abutment to cover us.
Once on the far side of the river the five of us spread out on the bank and were just about to have others move across the river when at least two and probably more grenades were thrown in on us. I was knocked to the ground and momentarily dazed from the concussion.When I came to I was terrified by the machine gun fire coming from the far abutment.It was not more than four feet above the ground just over my head. For an instant I thought that position had been overrun. My head cleared and I turned my attention in the direction the grenades had come from and did as I had been trained to do, clearing the area in front of me by firing my weapon and throwing grenades.It wasn’t long before I heard first Slocum and then a chorus of men shouting for a cease fire.I stopped firing and listened.
Slocum was calling out the names of the four of us who had crossed the river with him. When a person heard his name called he would respond with:“yeah” or “here” and Slocum would ask if they were ok.He would then move on to the next man.But, when he got to me try as I would I could not make a sound.Finally, not hearing anything from me and fearing that I was in trouble he walked to where I lay on the southernmost side of the bank.He knelt beside me and asked if I was ok.I tried to respond but could not.Slocum asked me again if I was ok and I nodded that I was and then he looked around, seeing the empty magazines lying beside me and two grenade rings in the fingers of my left hand.
“You did ok,” he said. “Next time you’ll be able to do all of this and be able to talk.”
I did go on to do all of that and more and still be able to talk, but I remember that first time I walked point at night and how terrified I was of our own machine gun and being knocked to the ground by CHICOM grenades. I still remember being confused and almost shooting back at our machine gun.I was disoriented for just a moment but it could have cost my life.Slocum had been my Squad Leader, Platoon Sargent and Platoon Leader and he was one of the reasons I am here today.
“Hey, Teller are you still there?” Slocum spoke loudly into the phone.
I was jerked back to present day and responded that I was still there. Craig wanted to know if I could attend a reunion being hosted by The Old Guard Association in Washington DC in early September.I immediately told him that I would attend knowing that I wouldn’t miss a chance to meet with Craig and other old timers from Alpha Company.Then getting serious Craig asked me if I could afford to make the trip.
“If you can’t afford it,” Craig said. “We’ll chip in and pay for your air fare and motel.We really want you out here.”
That last remark meant a lot to me. It answered a lot of questions that had cropped up over the past forty years being out of contact.I reassured him that I could afford it and we said our goodbyes.
Getting ready for the trip with help of my wife Jeannie was no easy affair. It had to be planned out, clothes selected and tickets purchased.One new article of clothing I purchased was a Vietnam Veteran cap.It was black and in the front it said Vietnam Veteran around a CIB.I didn’t think much about it at the time until reaching Chicago to change planes when a flight attendant looked at the cap and thanked me for my service.No one had ever thanked me for my service, this being before it was fashionable to do so.I sat in my seat with tears streaming down my cheeks.Going to one’s first military reunion puts a person’s nerves on edge; there is much anticipation and anxiety.I was proud to say that I was going to a reunion but I was anxious about meeting the guys again and I was afraid of The Wall.
Landing in Baltimore I was met by Craig Slocum and his wife Maddie, big hugs all around. We waited about an hour to meet Mike Telgenhof, an old timer in his own right and Slocum’s best friend.Mike and I had been good friends while in Vietnam also.When he arrived, we hugged and greeted each other as long lost brothers and then Slocum told me to go and get Mike’s baggage.
“Forty years and I’m still an FNG?” I asked.
To which Slocum responded, “Damned right and you always will be.”
We all laughed and then all of us went to get Mike’s bag. Then we loaded up the rental car and drove to the Days Inn near the rear gate of Fort Meyers.Here we met Goose and Gayle Tatum.Goose was known to me but because he had spent his time with first platoon instead of second platoon like the rest of us I did not know him well.
That night before falling asleep I thought of the last night action Slocum and I were on together. It was near the end of Slocum’s tour in Vietnam.He had been released of his duties and all he and a couple other old timers had to do was float.They could be anywhere they wanted to be in Alpha Company.They were in a word short. This time we were up in the mountains north and west of Da Nang by the Laotian border.Second platoon was being sent out on an ambush patrol and Slocum had walked over to me and asked who had point.I responded that I did.So, just like my first night action Slocum walked second man.
I was breaking a trail through tall elephant grass down the side of the main hill and off on a finger to where the elephant grass stopped and scrubby, bushy trees grew. It was my intention to locate the ambush inside the area covered with trees which were covered with a canopy.As I started to make entry into the trees Slocum grabbed me and I stopped and we settled to the ground.Whispering in my ear he told me to watch and pointed to shadows moving in the moonlight.Those shadows were NVA soldiers picking up their gear and moving out. If I had plunged ahead as I was going to do all hell would have broken loose.But, that didn’t happen.Instead, our new Lieutenant Hamblin, Slocum and I laid cover fire while the rest of the platoon pulled back.What was unusual was that we were close within fifteen meters and we could see muzzle flashes from the enemy’s rifles but we didn’t hear any bullets whizzing past our heads.One other point of interest was that Slocum had told the Lieutenant not to throw any grenades because of the canopy covering the trees.Well, the new Lieutenant threw a grenade which got hung up in the canopy and a hot piece of shrapnel had caught Slocum on the cheek.It was a small piece of shrapnel but Slocum was furious.Slocum didn’t like mistakes, especially in close quarters.
The ambush patrol had been compromised so we started making our way back to the company perimeter. I still had point only when the platoon withdrew the guys got excited and lost the trail and just went crashing out into the elephant grass.I found myself in a deep ravine covered with canopy and we stopped for a break because I was beat. Slocum asked me if I knew where I was and where the company was and I responded that I indeed did know.He then told me that I didn’t and when Lieutenant Hamblin came up and asked us if we knew where we were we both responded that we didn’t know.This was Slocum’s punishment for throwing the grenade.The Lieutenant didn’t know where we were and had to call the company and have them use their mortar to shoot illumination so he could see where the company was.It was a bad deal for the Lieutenant as everyone else knew if you wanted to go home all you had to do was walk up to the top of this big hill we were on.
Early the next morning we loaded onto a tour bus and headed for Gettysburg. It was a great time with much joshing, joking and picture opportunities. Maddie and Gayle are great friends and Craig, Mike, Goose and me acted like long lost brothers. There is a bond shared by men who have been in combat together.We enjoyed the tour but more than that we just enjoyed being together again.It was a great time.The tour guide made a special point to show us where The Old Guard had entered the fight at Gettysburg and being infantrymen we felt somehow connected with those Civil War soldiers.
The next day The Wall loomed in front of me. Craig, Mike and Goose gave me room but at the same time were aware of everything I was doing.Mike was very helpful in helping me find the names and locations of people I wanted to see that were on The Wall.Then we went out and found them.I was doing pretty good finding the name and silently saying goodbye.I was not aware of the others at all.Then on the last name, that of Matt Stewart I broke down and all three closed around me and held me in their arms as I wept uncontrollably.Matt, like me, had come to the unit as a replacement.He had begged me to carry the machine gun for my squad and he had become a close friend who had been killed shortly after I had gone home.He was a good kid from Corbin, Kentucky and I was saddened by his death.After the group hug I found a bench and sat down.It was during this time of reflection that I and Mike were interviewed by a college student doing a paper concerning the people visiting The Wall.
There were other things at my first reunion. A hurricane hit us pretty hard and the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were relieved of duty because of the high winds and we were very proud of them when they refused to leave their posts. Maddie and Gayle got wasted on Long Island Teas.Jimmie Attkisson from third platoon showed up and Slocum called him a “rich bastard” and made him buy us lunch.He is a lawyer in DC and his pretty wife Sharyl is a national news correspondent.Curly, another member of third platoon came with his daughter and her friend.Maddie, Gayle, Mike and I went to a convenience store and bought supplies for the incoming storm.We visited the Korean War Memorial at night and it was eerie and very quiet. The statues of a rifle platoon depicted there seemed to move in the night.The next day I was the first replacement to sign Alpha Company’s Vietnamese flag an honor bestowed upon only a few.
At the end I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained. I was sad that our time together was coming to a close.We hugged each other, made our goodbyes and I boarded my plane a changed man.The ghosts had been confronted and the bonds of friendship and brotherhood had been renewed.It was a trip well worth making.Many questions were answered and others were put into perspective.I wouldn’t have made the trip to The Wall any differently than the way I did. Having three combat buddies to hold and support me and share in my grief was exactly what I needed at the time.Reunions, while not for the faint of heart are beneficial and healing for those men lucky enough to have contact with their combat unit.Large or small reunions while often emotional are a way to lighten the load of a combat soldier and heal the wounds of war.
Alpha Company 4/3 11th LIB 68/69
Sometimes It Rained
By James R. Teller
It was never like it was in the movies, not even “Platoon” because nothing was cut out.It wasn’t a movie about a war.It was the real deal and nobody yelled cut at the end of a scene.The movies may show how some poor grunt died in the mud but they don’t convey how the guy felt sleeping in the mud for two weeks before he got it.
The movies don’t include how the guys felt who’d been out on patrol for over thirty consecutive days and when they finally got to come in for a rest the artillery colonel in charge of the firebase ordered the grunts to stay outside the wire, until he could get a chopper in and get the doughnut dollies off the hill.
Everyone’s seen the guys at the Bob Hope shows but they never showed the guys who never had a chance to go to the show, because they were out in the field.They never showed the guys who had a chance to go and wanted to go but gave their place to someone else in the squad who really needed a break from the action.
It was all of the things that movies are not and more.It was a real war in a far away land and some people did not want the war so much as the government did and because of this the peers of those men returning home protested against the service and the sacrifice the veterans had made for their country.
But, sometimes up in the highlands the mornings began in a thick fog and sometimes we would be above the fog and it was quiet and we had time for a second cup of instant coffee and we had time to dry out and tend to things we hadn’t had time for or maybe talk to each other about nothing in particular and there out on the edge of everything we’d take an hour or two before cutting another trail through the triple canopied half assed jungle we were in.
But, usually we just got up, ate, packed our gear and took off on some impossible patrol, over mountains and across rivers and go places that neither side wanted to fight in or for.
And sometimes it rained.
# Push For " Burning Shit Was a Shitty Job"
Burning Shit Was A Shitty Job
# Push For Weapons We Carried
Push Weapon Icon For Weapons We Carried
By James R. Teller
The Dead did not lie where they fell.
We wrapped them in their ponchos and
With wind swirling, hefted them onto choppers.
I do not know how it was handled after that.
Those who took care of them
Did not tell us and we did not ask.
Time stood still but just for a moment.
We had no time to mourn the dead.
Always in a hurry we moved out.
Blood stained our unwashed hands and clothes.
The smells of battle and the dead went with us.
Haggard faced we pushed toward our NDP.
That night we set up quickly.
Holes were dug and rations eaten,
The FO adjusted artillery fire.
Night ambush squads quietly snuck out.
Secretly, we thanked our lucky stars.
We were not one of the dead.
Sunrise brought promise of a new day.
For some, it was just another in a long line,
Short timers counted it was one left of a few.
But, the dead did not count it at all.
For them this day would not dawn,
Their lives and their war complete.
Death knew us all by name,
Not just those etched upon the wall.
We were the takers and the taken.
Without logic or an end game,
We were pawns used carelessly,
Blood was spent and taken on a blunder.
Someone asked if I had it to do over again
Would I answer a failed nation’s call?
And risk my name be put on yonder wall.
Yes with out hesitation I replied,
If only to see the Dead fresh and new
And do with them the things soldiers do.
By James R. Teller
Slocum was due to go home and had been sent to the rear a little early to wait in our base camp. He had been my squad leader, platoon sergeant, platoon leader and once for a very short time was the ranking man in the company, making him I suppose Company Commander. He had been put in for a field commission but after leading them on for a while had not signed the necessary papers.
So, it was a big surprise when he and a couple of short timers.. got off a resupply chopper and headed for the Company CP.We were up in the mountains on the Laotian border north and west of Da Nang .It was the monsoon season and it got cold at night.He asked for me to be in their position and I was glad to do so until I found out I would be taught a lesson in being hard core.
You see we never built any shelter from the rain and the cold.Usually, we would snap two ponchos together and make an open ended tent or hooch.. as we called it. It took us less than five minutes to put one up.We had done it so many times that we knew exactly what kind of poles to select and we had all kinds of poles to choose from.We would tie the hoods shut and place a pole between them to stretch out the sides and these little things made really good shelter against the rain, wet and the cold.
But, all the time I was with Slocum during his last week in the field we never made a hooch or any kind of shelter at night.Every night I would ask:Slocum," are we going to build a hooch tonight"?
Slocum would reply:No, I'm hard core.I don't need a hooch.I love the cold and being wet.This is what I'm going to miss.I'm going to lay down in the mud and go to sleep.I love the mud.I'm hard core.I love this war.!
Every night I would ask about building a hooch and every night Slocum would give the same reply.Thinking back on it the other old timers didn't even bother to ask nor did they set up their own shelter.You just didn't contradict Slocum like that.It wasn't fear of confrontation or anything like that.It was more like respect because if Slocum wanted to lie down in the cold and mud and sleep in the open as inches of rain water poured down over him, you would do it gladlyand grateful because you were with him.The only reason I questioned him on this was because I wasn't hard core and I wanted the comfort that a hooch provided.
The old timers didn't question Slocum because they knew that everything he did had a purpose.He knew when to fight and when to run.He was the difference and if he didn't want a hooch in the position as far as they were concerned they didn't need or want one either.I was the only one in the position who asked if we were going to build a shelter and I did so every night until the last night I spent with Slocum.
Slocum would always reply: No.I'm hard core.I love this war.This is what I'm going to miss when I get home.I don't need anything.I'm hard core.I love the mud and the cold.I don't want anything.I am hard core.
That last night we spent together I didn't ask...I didn't even look for a high spot.I just flopped down in a puddle and wrapped myself in my poncho liner and went to sleep, exhausted and uncaring.It didn't make any difference anymore.I was hard core.
I learned a lot of things from Slocum but I'll never forget his last week in the field, up on the Laotian Border in the triple canopied mountain jungle during the monsoon season.He taught me to be hard core and when things get tough I just keep going on, knowing that I can make it because I am hard core and I don't need or want a thing.
First Day in the Field
By James R. Teller
Five new recruits sat on the floor of the supply tent piling up equipment as the supply sergeant dolled it out.
“How many canteens do you want”?The supply sergeant asked.
“I don’t know how many do they usually carry?”
“Well, I’d carry at least four but you might want five or six.It’s defends on how much water you take and if you want to have some in reserve, in case you have to go without for a while.”
“I’ll take six I guess.I can always carry them empty if I have too many.” I reasoned.
The process went on as we acquired packs and frames, something new to us, ammo and twenty magazines (basic load) grenades and some of everything else they had.We would have taken long underwear and overshoes if they’d thrown it out on the floor and suggested it would be a good idea for us to have them.We’d just spent nine weeks in Infantry A.I.T. and now we found we didn’t have a clue as to what exactly was needed in the field with an infantry unit or how it should be packed.So we basically took everything they threw at us figuring too much was better than going without, but going without is what the infantry is all about.We may have been assigned to a Light Infantry Brigade but the packs we had put together were heavy.
We filled our canteens at a water trailer, hoisted our packs up on our shoulders and awkwardly made our way to the battalion’s landing pad where we would load onto a chopper and go to the field.I had trained at Ft. Lewis, Washington and we had practiced getting on and off huey’s although they were just stationary mock ups, all the real choppers where here in ‘Nam so none of us had been on a real chopper.The guys in charge of resupply were at the pad too unloading boxes of chow, ammo and equipment from a jeep and placing it beside the pad for loading onto a yet not present huey.We joked and tried to look cool and relaxed but we weren’t.Everything about us was new and although we tried we couldn’t hide our inexperience.
Two choppers came in from the west banked and landed on the pad.We were directed toward one and the resupply was loaded on the other.There were no doors and no seats on our huey.We sat on the floor and leaned back against our packs.Well, here we go I thought.My heart raced.My throat was dry and my hands were wet.But, I tried to smile and act cool.The door gunners sitting in their little alcove behind us looked cool and calm.I had no reason to believe that this was anyone’s first trip out except for the five of us.We lifted off and my stomach felt queasy.The door gunner looked at me, smiled and then looked away.He evidently knew what I was going through.
It took us about twenty minutes to reach Alpha Company. They were operating close to base camp which meant they were in the coastal lowlands of southern I Corp.It meant that they could get resupply daily and the terrain was flat to hilly rather than hilly to mountainous. They were in the middle of a move and had not reached their N.D.P. (night defensive perimeter) yet.Taking replacements now would be no problem but they weren’t ready for resupply and we circled while they decided what they were going to do and then I saw someone on the ground pop smoke and we went in.We jumped off the chopper as fast as we could; ducking our heads and getting away from the chopper, which immediately took off.The other chopper was unloaded almost as fast and the resupply items were being spread out amongst individuals who would carry them to the N.D.P.There wasn’t a lot of talking or shouting, everyone was pitching in and helping.The Captain introduced himself; shook our hands and told us to spread out and walk with his CP group.
We moved out and I thought we must really be in a hurry because the pace was something just under a trot.Later I would learn that this was called “humping” because of the hunched over position one took when leaning into his pack and striding out.Alpha Company wasn’t in any particular hurry.This was the pace they usually moved at.I had been one of the best milers in Basic and A.I.T. training and could hardly keep up.It didn’t help that my gear and that of the other “newbie’s” wasn’t packed very well and it flopped and banged around as we did our best and tried not to fall behind.Some of our gear fell off and had to be retrieved and carried in our hands because no one was going to stop long enough for us to repack it.My arms went numb from the weight of the pack.My brain on the other hand was taking notes and getting ideas on how to eliminate some of my pack problems.I noticed how the packs of the “old timers” were packed to be “wired tight” and that they didn’t seem to be getting pounded to death by their equipment.All in all we five looked like a bunch of recruits marching down to get their hair cuts alongside some soon to graduate Infantry A.I.T. unit.It wouldn’t take long before we got “our shit together”, but it wouldn’t happen without time and effort.I wondered just how much further we were going to go as I had pretty much had all the pain and discomfort I wanted for one day, but at least we hadn’t had to hump all day with these fools.I had that to be thankful for and I tried to think of that instead of the pain my flopping pack was causing or the two perfectly good arms that had now been numb now for a half-an-hour.Then for no apparent reason that I could disconcert we were there.We stopped.We had made it to our N.D.P.I flopped on the ground and leaned against my pack.It would have been fine with me to just stay right there for the night, but my day wasn’t over yet.
The CP group we were in contained the old man, his radio man (RTO), an FO (foreword observer), his RTO and the weapons platoon, whichwas about half the size of a regular platoon and humped an 81 mm mortar.The FO was calling in marking rounds for artillery fire, the mortar was being set up, resupply was being broken down and hot chow in card board boxes was being laid out for serving.The rest of the company was spread around the perimeter in three man positions and was digging in and putting out claymores (command detonated mines).Although, people talked to each other it didn’t appear that anyone needed to be directed as to what had to be done.They just went about their business quietly without any fuss.
The chow boxes were located apart from each other and the men maintained a distance between themselves as first one squad and then another made their way through the serving line and back to their positions.One of the servers suggested that we had better get in line if we wanted to eat and of course the five of us went as a group each one hoping to be first in line; which got the attention of the mortar platoon sergeant who quietly suggested that we spread out. We were getting the idea, not real fast but it was beginning to sink in.So, we spread out to go through the line and then bunched up again to eat our meal.Well, we got part of it right.The platoon sergeant looked at us and just shook his head and mumbled something to himself that sounded like F.N.G.’s (fucking new guys) and then looked away in disgust.
The sun had gone down and it was getting dark by the time the CO’s RTO came and got us.He told us to bring our gear, which brought back painful memories.I didn’t like this pack thing very much.One at a time squad leaders made their way to the captain and his little group of newbie’s and he would introduce us to our squad leader and he would take them away into the growing darkness.I couldn’t see the face of Sergeant Craig Slocum but I shook his hand and followed him to one of 2nd platoon’s positions.He explained that he and his squad were going out that night on an ambush and that I would stay in and man a position with Tony Dentkos.That made sense to me as going out on ambush sounded like serious business.Slocum introduced me to Dentkos and left but not before giving me instruction to not shoot at anything in front of me until the ambush squad had returned.
“We’ll be right out in front of you so stay awake on guard but relax and don’t shoot until we get back in.If we do come back in you’ll know it’s us because we’ll be shouting fuck you as a kind of password.”With that he turned and vanished into the night.
The fox hole had already been dug against the back of a rice paddy dike and on one side of it Tony had dug a prone position for himself.He suggested that I dig one.A prone position is about one entrenching tool shovel deep with the sod banked around the edges.If something happened we would get into the fox hole but the prone position protected us while we slept.Tony sat with his back against the paddy dike facing me while I dug.
Tony was from Cleveland, Ohio and he knew absolutely nothing about South Dakota which made us even because I didn’t know anything about Ohio.But, I had seen the Cleveland Indians play the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis so at least we had that much in common.
I finished digging and knelt behind the paddy dike and talked to Tony in the same whispery tones that he spoke to me in. I wanted his ideas on my pack and he suggested I had more equipment than I really needed.It was the dry season so I really didn’t need a poncho or an air mattress.
“Just sleep in your poncho liner and you’ll cut a lot of weight.You can always get a poncho and an air mattress if you want one later on when it gets wet.”
It made sense to me but since I had an air mattress I could see no good reason for not using it and proceeded to blow it up.I stared into the darkness while Tony and I talked but I couldn’t make anything out and then all of a sudden all hell broke loose and I could see tracers flying and the sounds of machine gun and other automatic weapon’s fire blazing away, coupled with the explosions of grenades.I instinctively reached for my weapon which was lying against the dike.
Tony who never even bothered to turn and look at the scene in front of me said very quietly:“Put it down”. The ambush squad got ambushed. If anyone makes it out they’ll be coming back here as quick as they can. Don’t shoot until they all get in.”
As soon as it had started the shooting stopped, minutes dragged by until I heard a chorus of “fuck you” and the ambush squad came running back in.All were alive and well although a guy named Yelly had his boot heal shot off.
Well, that was about it.Nothing really out of the ordinary happened on my first day with Alpha Company.I learned what equipment I needed and the next day I sent a bunch of it back to the rear.I also got more pointers on how to pack my pack but the humping took a little more time to get used to.
I met the rest of 2nd platoon the next morning and it wasn’t long before I wasn’t an F.N.G any longer.I never forgot Tony not turning around to see what was going on.It made a lasting impression on me and I guess that was the most important thing that happened on my first day with Alpha Company.
# Push For Story By Jim Teller
Marino short by Jim Teller
Practical Joke Gone South
By James R. Teller
I hesitate to write the following story.It doesn't cast me in a very good light and although things worked out ok I feel guilty that I initiated the course of events that make this story.
At the time of this event I was an RTO (radioman) for 2nd platoon.I hadn't been in country very long but I wasn't a new comer either.We had been operating in the highlands southwest of DaNang and we had been out for a while.We flew south to a firebase north of Chu Lai on highway one.I don?t recall its name.
After we got on the firebase a unit of the 198th Light Infantry Brigade that had been securing it was being air lifted out.We had just gotten off choppers and hadn't?t been assigned bunkers yet so it was a little bit of a Chinese fire drill with the 198th leaving and us just arriving.
One of the keys to this whole thing was that Oakie Green had a toothache.As a matter-of-fact he had a tooth ache for some time.Anyone who served in the Infantry in Vietnam knows that you just didn't get sent in for a tooth ache.Generally, they kept you in the field until it was convenient to get you to the dentist or until the tooth abscessed.So Oakie had been in constant pain for quite a while.The medic had given him some Darvon pain medicine to make life manageable and once Oakie landed on the firebase where it was relative safe he took about five tablets of Darvon and washed them down with a hot foamy beer. So Oakie wasn't exactly clear headed but I didn't know this.So, when he came to me and asked where his squad was I pointed to the landing pad where a group of 198th grunts were loading a chopper for the field and told him we were moving out again and that was his squad was getting on the chopper.I thought Oakie would run over there see that they were from another unit and realize I had sent him on a wild goose chase.But, that didn't happen.
After I sent Oakie to the chopper pad I and the rest of 2nd platoon moved to our assigned bunkers and it wasn't until later that Oakie came up missing and the search went out. Someone had seen Oakie heading for the chopper pad and when I heard that a dull ache pained my stomach.My little practical joke wasn't turning out to be so funny.I told Lt. Miller what I had done and of course he relayed the information to the CP.
The unit of the 198thOakie had gotten on the chopper with had gone west near the border of Laotian border.They weren't taking resupply and it took three days to get Oakie returned to our unit.
Lieutenant Miller suggested that he didn't think I should send anyone out on these little side trips again.I met Oakie when he came in and apologized for the gone wrong practical joke.
Aside from the lost feeling of walking around for a day or so trying to find someone that he recognized Oakie wasn't any the worse for wear.I however, felt bad because what I intended to be a little practical joke had gone south and had caused major discomfort.
Oakie wasn't the type of guy to hold grudges and he accepted my apology.I liked Oakie as did everyone and it really hurt us when we lost him later on, saving the lives of those around him and being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously.
By James R. Teller
I would assume that the reason that we didn’t train with a pack frame and pack like the ones we used in Vietnam was because they didn’t have extra ones to be used for training.I can’t be sure of that but that’s probably what happened.Still it’s a bit odd that something so critical to an infantryman doing his job wasn’t covered in Infantry A.I.T.But, then again all the training we had received in Basic and A.I.T. was to just get us through our first fire fight, after that we were supposed to learn from others or figure it out for ourselves.
So I’ll explain a few of the differences between training and combat packsSo that you can get the hang of it.In training everyone has the same equipment and everyone packs it the same way.In combat a grunt carries stuff that belongs to his unit like ammunition, machine gun ammo, grenades, smoke grenades, trip flares, claymores, explosives, mortar rounds, starlight scope, first aid bandage, compass, machetes, and entrenching tools.While he doesn’t carry all of the above items he does carry the items assigned to him regardless of what he may or may not want to carry.So a squad carried 1.200 rounds for the machine gun, five entrenching tools, three machetes and so on.Things like food, water, sleeping gear, writing paper and pens and anything else he may want to bring along are optional and how he packs his gear is up to him.Nobody says a hundred round belt of machine gun ammo must be carried a certain way or that a claymore should be located in this area of your pack. So basically we went from knowing what we were supposed to have and how to pack it to how much more stuff can they pile on and where do I put it.
How heavy our packs were was in large part determined by where we were operating.If we were close to either division or brigade base camp we were in the coastal plain areas of southern I Corp and resupply was sent out daily, so you didn’t have to carry that many rations or ammo in addition to your basic load and each platoon had a beer and soda fund and you could order say one beer and two sodas for each man.Going further north and west from this area things became mountainous and further from base camp so it was harder to resupply Alpha Company.Also, the longer you went without resupply the more food you needed.So, it wasn’t unusual to carry rations for three to five days or even a week and then there was the consideration of water, what season it was and how much of that was needed.All of this stuff weighs something and pretty soon you have a pack pushing the hell out of seventy pounds.Now, it really does become important to know how to put together a pack.Not only does it have to ride right; it has to be packed in such a way that you can get to what you want when you need it.
One of the first things that disrupts the whole package is when the order is given to drop your pack and go light.This usually happens when you have made contact or are in some other situation that doesn’t require your pack to be taken along but in either case you won’t be given time to unpack your ammo, machine gun ammo, grenades, smoke grenades and water.Of coarse water is optional but the rest of that stuff better be with you when it’s needed.So you develop ways of carrying you basic load (twenty magazines of ammo).Some guys used a claymore bag or bandoleers that the ammo came in wore them slung around their necks.We’ve all seen machine gun ammo carried this way.I’ve tried it all and ended up with a large ammo pouch in which I could put 16 magazines and mounted it on a pistol belt along with a regular ammo pouch which held four magazines and could safely carry two grenades on the outside.I mention this because I wasn’t a great fan of carrying grenades by slipping the handle through a D ring on your pack suspender and then bending the handle to keep it there.Once in a while the Army would get it right and like I said you can safely carry two grenades on a regular ammo pouch and you can get to them in a hurry.I wasn’t that particular with smoke grenades because generally speaking they’re not going to hurt anyone.Add canteen or two on your pistol belt and when you drop your pack you have your ammo, grenades and water.
I remember one guy who was always borrowing water when we went light because he would leave his canteens on his pack.Well, that went on for a little while but then pretty soon nobody would give him a drink because we were humping our own water and really didn’t like carrying it for someone who wasn’t going to carry his own.Water was optional and if you want to drink it you’d better pack it.Food is the same way.An order would be given to draw rations for so many days or to get so many meals but what you actually took was up to you and here again it’s nice to have something to eat.
Getting a pack to ride right I felt was a matter of getting the weight as high up on my shoulders as possible.You might think that it would be the other way around but it wasn’t.Get that stuff high and then secure it so it isn’t flopping and banging around.The term “wired tight” as in “I have my shit wired tight” comes to mind.If I had to hump a mortar round I wanted it on top of the pack, tied to the top of the pack frame, not under the pack as some people carried them.But, that’s just me and what I found worked for me, others had every right to carry things the way they wanted to.Do it right and it’s manageable.Do it wrong and it can really kick your ass.
When the mortars are coming in it’s nice to have an entrenching tool to dig in with.But, if the guys who were supposed to be carrying them had decided to leave them somewhere you wouldn’t have anything to dig in with except your helmet and your hands. I always thought an entrenching tool was worth the weight but, that’s just me.You’d be surprised the equipment guys will “forget” if they’re not watched carefully and that’s one of the reasons they had squad leaders.Among other things squad leaders determined to some extent what was on your back and they made sure you had it when it was needed.But that’s another story.
The big thing was to think of yourself as being self contained and not needing anything.It wasn’t true of course but it was a hell of an attitude to have.
There were always two rumors circulating throughout Alpha Company.One was that we were going to go in to some safe place and eat hot chow and drink cold beer.It would usually be by the ocean so we could swim a little too and the other was that they needed us further north and west, up in the mountains in the triple canopied bush.Well being self contained could help you defeat the disappointment and expectations of both rumors.Living out of your pack isn’t as easy as one might think.I still have a fascination with ice, because I couldn’t control when it would be that I would get something cold and the more I thought about it the worse it got.It was better to tell yourself and others that you hated ice and loved hot foamy beer or that you liked C rations and didn’t ever want to eat hot chow again.
I remember not having been in ‘Nam very long when we got a hot meal in the field and it was 2nd platoon’s turn to eat last and I was at the end of the line.Among the other stuff they were serving were whole dill pickles, which I love and I was really looking foreword to eating but the guy in front of me got the last one.So, I walked around for a couple of weeks craving dill pickles because I didn’t know how to go without and going without is what the infantry is all about.
“I’m self contained!I don’t need or want a God damned thing.I love this war.I hope they send us north and we have to hump it all the way to the DMZ.Jesus, I wish they’d stop sending us in I hate it back there.I hope we go out on ambush every night and we neverhave to sleep in the perimeter. Don’t you just hate stand down and all of that cold beer and grilled steaks.I mean really if a guy lived like that all of the time he’d become a real pussy.Speaking of pussy … now there was one thing I never pretended to hate or not miss.That would be taking it too far even for me.”